Time to tackle racial diversity

The fundraising sector needs to work harder to recruit people from minority ethnic groups, finds Rebecca Cooney

Fundraising consultant Carol Akiwumi vividly recalls her first Institute of Fundraising Convention in 2010. "I could not understand why there were so few black fundraisers," says Akiwumi, who was an investment banker before going into fundraising.

In 2013, the IoF and the Barrow Cadbury Trust report Who's Asking? Diversity in Fundraising concluded that the fundraising sector was "less diverse than the general workforce of the voluntary sector, with fewer people from ethnic minorities ... working as fundraisers".

The report found that 87 per cent of fundraisers identified themselves as white, 2 per cent as black, 3 per cent as Asian and 2 per cent as mixed race. A further 5 per cent said they had no particular ethnicity.

Preliminary research by the IoF last year suggests the picture in terms of fundraisers from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds hasn't really changed, according to its chief executive, Peter Lewis. "When the report came out, we were unable to invest resources in getting to grips with this issue," he says. But the IoF's strategic framework, published in January 2016, makes a commitment to developing diversity within the fundraising sector.

Akiwumi, the former chair of Black Fundraisers UK, a special interest group at the IoF, says the conversation in the fundraising world has already begun to shift. "There's a lot of talk and a lot of interest," she says. But she adds that it seems to be mostly "a lot of good intentions". Part of the problem, she says, is that the sector has failed to grasp there's a business case for increasing the diversity of fundraisers. Fundraisers from minority groups are more likely to successfully raise donations from other people from those backgrounds, Akiwumi believes.

"We keep talking about donor-centred experiences, so let's be real: what kind of donors are we catering to?" she says. "Are we getting the most out of all donors?" In the business world, companies are beginning to grasp the need for diversity, she adds.

Last year, the information company Thomson Reuters launched its diversity and inclusion index, which compared attributes, such as board diversity and the availability of opportunities for training, at a range of public companies. Firms that made investments in diversity, it found, showed stronger returns than those that did not.

Lewis admits the charity sector needs to catch up. "Anecdotally, we think we're a bit behind the best businesses," he says.

Bertille Calinaud, senior inclusion and diversity consultant at Inclusive Employers, which works largely with private sector firms, says the first step for any organisation that wants to increase diversity is to establish what the current situation is and where people from BAME backgrounds fall out of the recruitment process. It's worth looking at how the organisation presents itself to new employees, she says, starting with something as basic as whether its careers website is welcoming and suggests inclusion is important.

If that's a quota, so be it. You can't just say 'we'd like to be diverse'. You must put a number on it, or it won't happen.

Carol Akiwumi, fundraising consultant

Akiwumi says the problem often starts even before the applicant gets as far as the website. "We need adverts that use clear, simple, accessible language," she says. "If an entry-level advert is full of jargon, it makes the work look more complicated than it is."

Akiwumi says recruiters need to understand that many people who have great potential might not necessarily have fundraising experience, but strong transferable skills and the right attitude are more important. And charities need to give consideration to where they look for new recruits, she says. "Most people I know have stumbled into fundraising," she says. "If we keep advertising in the same places, we'll find only the same people.

"For example, rather than going to a university students union for entry-level jobs, why not go directly to the university's Afro-Caribbean or Asian societies?"

If candidates are applying, Calinaud says, the recruitment process needs to be examined to see if it excludes some people. "We know that the less structured the interview process is, the less evidence we have," she says. "And then you get issues of unconscious bias. Some organisations get loads of BAME people applying, but they don't get shortlisted or appointed. So maybe the people recruiting need training."

Many commercial organisations practise blind recruitment and remove names or educational institutions from CVs. But Akiwumi is sceptical because it's sometimes possible to work out a person's ethnicity from details on their CV, she says. Another issue for the sector is the use of unpaid labour. Calinaud says volunteering can often be a way into the charity sector, but not everyone can afford to volunteer.

The IoF's 2013 diversity survey found that 40 per cent of white respondents volunteered or worked in unpaid fundraising roles early on, compared with 47 per cent of people of mixed ethnicity, 48 per cent of black respondents and 53 per cent of Asian respondents. However, although BAME people were found to be more likely to have volunteered prior to getting paid work, this could be much more difficult for those from less well-off backgrounds, Akiwumi says. The survey found that the problem continued beyond recruitment, with "more senior roles still disproportionately filled by white men".

One of the strategies the IoF is considering is the introduction of bursaries and scholarships to help people from BAME backgrounds access the training they need.

Support, mentoring and development are vital to keep people in their roles once you've got them through the door, Akiwumi says. One solution often put forward is quotas. Akiwumi says she believes in "setting smart goals - having a target to aim for and measuring yourself against it".

"If that's a quota, so be it," she says. "You can't just say 'we'd like to be diverse'. You must put a number on it or it simply won't happen."

Racial diversity, she says, must become seen as the norm, not to be dipped in an out of. "We have to celebrate diversity and be uncomfortable when there is none," she says. "We need to be intentional about it. It's not going to happen by accident."

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